In this month’s Money Magazine there is a whole article about “Does College Still Pay Off?” and many other journals have been asking similar questions, especially with law school and the dearth of jobs for recent grads.  As many parents struggle right now to justify their expenses, and brace themselves for the departure of their kids heading off to college or grad schools next month, let me just weigh in on this timely issue with a few additional thoughts that may not be getting coverage in the press.

First of all, between the ages of 18-25 a young mind is aborbing information like a sponge.  These are formative years in brain development– and the time to maximize on learning potential is early on, not later in life.  During this time, we are given the tools that we will need to think critically and be analytical.  Learning from the great minds and masters of various subjects is how we build the future leaders of our country.  They will have the rest of their lives to focus on work, but this very narrow window of time to finish honing in on key skills that will serve them the rest of their lives.

Second, aside from measuring the return of your investment in dollars, how about taking into account certain intangibles that cannot be quantified?  How could you possibly measure the value a family gains by feeling proud that one of their clan members has graduated college?  How do you put a price tag on the sense of accomplishment one feels when fulfilling a dream?  How can you begin to ascertain the extended benefit others will derive in our community by having a well-educated, well-grounded citizen within our midst?

Third, for those that like to focus on numbers, it is well documented that on average college grads will earn 50% more than those without a bachelor’s degree, and that those unskilled labor jobs are dying out fast. While we sit here in DC arguing about whether to pass a new living wage law, many of us are dumbfounded that anyone here can even survive earning less than $15/hour.

$200,000 seemed like a lot of money to invest 20 years ago, and it is still a lot of money today no doubt, but if I really question the return of my investment in college and law school, the fact is over the last 15 years as a lawyer in DC, I have more than realized the economic return on that investment, not even taking into account the amazing friendships, networking contacts and life opportunties that my alma maters have afforded me over all these years.  Honestly, I could not put a dollar value on all the joy that I have derived as a result of my education.

I do realize that times have changed, and my post-high school education today would cost someone over $300,000; meanwhile the job market for lawyers is very different from what it was a decade ago, so these decisions should not be made lightly, however, I believe most economists agree that a $100,000 investment in a 4-year degree at an in-state college rate is a no-brainer when you look at the return (based just on potential income) over the life of the individual.  The only thing we all need to be cautious about are those super pricey schools and the amount of debt you are taking on to justify those inflated sticker prices.  As long as you are smart with your money, you’ll be fine.

So, is college worth all that?  Absolutely– all that, and a bag of chips!

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.